It happened quite casually and fluidly. After all, to them, you’re just a number out of millions of others before and after you.
You leave the sterile environment of the doctor’s office feeling as though your body is attacking you from the inside out and it’s totally out of your control. That day I was diagnosed with Papillary Thyroid Cancer.
Your thyroid is a butterfly shaped gland that sits at the base of your neck and makes up hormones that help control your heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature and body weight.
There are five main types of thyroid cancer: each type generally increases in severity and subsequently decreases its curability. In terms of its severity, my cancer is what the doctors call the ‘good’ type of cancer to get.
According to The Irish Cancer Society, thyroid cancer is a rare type of cancer that mainly effects older people, but can effect young people who have been exposed to radiation, such as children living in the vicinity of Chernobyl. I guess I drew the short straw.
Trusting your gut
Like many, my journey began with a lump and several trips to the doctor. I constantly suffered with upper-repertory problems. I had a dry cough that wouldn’t go away, I was severely fatigued and I had drenching night-sweats.
My doctor advised me that it was a viral infection and prescribed yet another course of antibiotics. Five months passed and I still didn’t feel right. Trusting my gut, I seized a chance at a second opinion that has potentially saved my life.
Because I have cancer I frequently get asked how I am feeling. Of course it’s the natural human response, but because of the pre-perceived notion of how we think cancer is supposed to be (thanks Hollywood), it’s like you’re expected to feel or act a certain way – a sick way.
Without generalising, we tend to think of chemo, the sickness and the loss of hair, however there are so many different types of cancers and each is unique to the person effected. Subsequently, each will have different implications on their health and well-being.
Right now I’m grateful that I feel no different than I did prior to being diagnosed. Sometimes people don’t know how to respond to someone who has an invisible illness – especially if the person has never experienced sickness before.
However it’s totally okay to not be able to relate. Probably the worst response I’ve had so far is “oh yeah, I know what you mean”.
You never think that it’s going to be you, and frankly I don’t think I’ve quite accepted that I, Niamh O’Donoghue, have cancer.
Having a positive attitude and a strong thirst for life has been the driving force behind my willingness to get better as quick as I can. I don’t feel sad, and I’ve yet to cry about it, but I’m determined more than ever to punch cancer in its nasty face.
Having a steady support system of friends and family is vital when going through any illness. It’s also a time when you’ll be able to distinguish who your true friends are.
One thing I’ve taken from this journey so far is that your health is your wealth, and without it you have nothing.
Call to action
September is international Thyroid Awareness Month, and by being aware of changes in your body you can detect these diseases early.
A lump is the most common symptom, while hoarseness in your voice, swollen glands, night sweats and fatigue are all indications that there may be something wrong.
Familiarise yourself with your body and your different lumps and bumps. Early detection is vital for a successful cancer diagnosis.
For more information on thyroid cancer you can visit cancer.ie.
You can also follow Niamh’s journey across her social media platforms at @CulturedCuppa.